Andrews Seminary to General Conference: Further Discussion of "Unity" Document Needed

Members of the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University have called on the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to engage the Adventist Church in wider dialogue concerning the recently-released "unity" document. On September 25, the Office of the Secretary of the General Conference circulated the document, "A Study of Church Governance and Unity," to members of the General Conference Executive Committee, and published the document on the website of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, which helped prepare the document for publication.

The document contends that on the matter of women's ordination church territories in all parts of the Worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, particularly the church's unions, should "defer," "submit," "yield"—the document uses several synonyms—to what it characterizes as the higher authority of the General Conference because of that body's wider representation. Many have objected to the document's seeming move to consolidate the General Conference's governing power, which in turn could be used to take over some union conferences being characterized as "rebellious." Others have objected to the document's demonizing language that implies that the many territories in the Seventh-day Adventist Church that have moved toward ordaining women may be exhibiting a spirit indicative of satanic influence.

Andrews University Seminary faculty members object on different a basis—that the document must be discussed more widely with broader input before being put before the General Conference Executive Committee for approval. In a joint statement released on Friday, September 30, the Seminary Faculty members called on the General Conference to engage the wider body:

We the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, affirm the biblical truth of church unity grounded in our worship of God, our common faith, our shared community, and our sense of mission. We have serious concerns about the recent document “A Study of Church Governance and Unity” released by the General Conference and its portrayal of the nature and authority of the church. Further discussion by the church at large on this important ecclesiological issue is needed before such a document is adopted.” Voted September 30, 2016.

It is not the first time that the General Conference and the Seminary faculty have staked out different ground over the question of ordaining women. In October, 2015, only months after the General Conference rejected a measure that would have given jurisdiction of ordination to the church's thirteen divisions, nine seminary faculty members petitioned the General Conference to return their ordained minister credentials in favor or commissioned minister credentials. The General Conference rejected the request using an argument that is now contained in the "unity" document:

Because ordination is the Church’s recognition of a divine calling, it cannot be given up on individual impulse. Thus, what would have to be repudiated would be a pastor’s entire vocation and his calling to ministry. Even if one were to accept such a process as theoretically permissible, however, presently no pastor with ministerial credentials has denied his call to ministry; and it seems highly unlikely that any pastor would do that. Repudiation is not actively prohibited but certainly GC Working Policy does not countenance such a course of action" (page 38).

The Seminary faculty released a joint statement called "On The Unique Headship of Christ in the Church" repudiating male headship in advance of the 2015 General Conference Session as well.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Well done! The other Universities should follow!


As a child of God, and a loyal member of His remnant church, I wholeheartedly endorse the SDATS statement!


Thank goodness that the voice of reason is being heard. The authoritative, bludgeoning language of the GC document is an embarrassment .


i think it would be a very good idea if each church member read the secretariat’s 50-page study…it’s a quick, easy read, and has a lot of useful information that many people may not be aware of…for instance, how many church members realize that annual council is now on par with a sitting GC session as the highest authority in our church, and that divergence from church policy voted in a sitting GC session can be allowed as long as it’s negotiated through annual council…

according to the 2010 version of our constitution, the general conference excecutive committee (GCEXCOM), which is what annual council consists of, is the delegated authority of the GC between sitting GC sessions:

Sec. 1. a. During the intervals between Sessions of the General Conference, the General Conference Executive Committee is delegated the authority to act on behalf of the General Conference in Session. The membership of the General Conference Executive Committee includes representatives of all the divisions of the world field and the presidents of all unions and therefore speaks for the world Church. Major items affecting the world Church are considered at the Annual Council meetings of the General Conference Executive Committee, when all the members of the Committee are invited to be present. The authority, therefore, of the General Conference Executive Committee is the authority of the world Church.

the secretariat’s 50-page study is essentially quoting this section of the constitution to drive home the point that the authority of annual council supercedes any church authority at the division, union, conference, or mission level:

"Furthermore, the Constitution and Bylaws specify that the GC Executive Committee ‘speaks for the world Church’ because its membership ‘includes representatives of all the divisions of the world field and the presidents of all unions’ and is representative of the world field not only geographically, for in addition to administrators, it includes pastors, other ‘frontline’ workers, laypeople, and ‘young adults.’ In consequence: ‘The authority . . . of the General Conference Executive Committee is the authority of the world Church.’” A Study of Church Governance and Unity, pp. 15-16.

the delegated quality of annual council’s authority is downplayed in the study’s emphasis that the decisions of annual council, like the decisions of a sitting GC session, is what our church willingly subordinates itself to:

We believe the authority granted the Church by Jesus enables church leaders to make decisions that bind all members; we further believe that the apostles affirmed the principle of collective decision-making by leaders representing the whole body of believers. In furtherance of this principle, we collectively subordinate ourselves to decisions taken at General Conference Sessions, which have always been representative bodies, and by Annual Councils, whose membership became representative of the world Church in the second half of the twentieth century. These bodies are our highest authorities, reflecting both the model of the Jerusalem Council and Ellen G White’s explicit counsel." Ibid., pp.13-14.

the delegated quality of annual council’s authority is further downplayed through the study’s elevation of annual council to jerusalem council status:

“In sum, longstanding Adventist practice, reflecting the model found in the book of Acts, is to let diversity flourish whenever possible, but to reserve to the world Church decisions about whether to allow diversity in matters of significance. The Adventist equivalent of the Jerusalem Council traditionally was a GC Session, but, as the denomination expanded, a greater role has been accorded to the GC Executive Committee, which is now, in its defined areas of authority, equivalent to the Jerusalem Council, for both are representative bodies, reflective of the Church as a whole.” Ibid., p.19.

putting all of this together, and in the context of WO, it is evident that the beef the GC has with pro-WO unions isn’t necessarily WO…it’s the unilateral action taken to ordain and advance women in PUC and CUC, in particular…what the secretariat’s study is strongly hinting is that if pro-WO unions negotiate with annual council, they will receive exemptions to the no vote taken in san antonio…this will then no longer be seen as unilateral action, but collaborative action that is fully consonant with the unity through diversity principle that is the main thrust of the secretariat’s study…

of course it remains to be seen whether the terms laid out during negotiation, from annual council’s side, are too steep for pro-WO unions to accept…one can imagine such demands as promises to address the pro-gay position of a number of churches in PUC, or an increase of payments on the part of NAD to the GC to make up for the shortfall created by NAD’s moving out of GC headquarters…most likely initial terms will be set deliberately too steep…but the process of negotiation can be expected to produce final terms that all parties can accept…

the secretariat’s study is, of course, asserting its legal right to execute a hostile takeover of any and all uncooperative unions, but this is an expected display of power geared towards framing negotiations…it is nowhere near the interests of the GC to mortally wound its most important division…


All very lofty. It would be interesting to know the IRS situation regarding all this now, Jared.

An aside: male accountants can be ordained but not women ministers?

How Money Got Us Into Trouble

A Very Surprising (and Interesting) History About Women’s Ordination
By C. Mervyn Maxwell, PhD

Former Professor of Church History, SDA Theological Seminary
Author, God Cares

This decision to make licensed ministers virtually equal to fully ordained ones was not voted without protest. In particular, some of the General Conference treasurers, the men most particularly concerned about finances, argued that it was wrong to reduce the value of ordination merely in order to save money, even to save offering money. Speaking for himself and for some of his associates, Robert Osborn, as assistant General Conference treasurer, wrote earnestly to the NAD leadership: “There is a definite detected feeling that it is hardly becoming to alter our attitude toward our licensed ministers for tax considerations in a particular country [the U.S.A. ].”

But the response of the top leadership was that “the difference between the functions of the licensed and ordained ministry is not a moral or theological issue, but a matter of church policy,” and that “the process by which the church trains its ministers obviously is not a matter of theology nor doctrine, but one of methodology, policy.”

In this way, for the sake of saving money, the denomination deprived ordination of much of its distinctiveness. No longer did the General Conference look on ordination as a calling whose nature was determined by Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. No longer was the work of the ordained minister a matter for theological study; instead, it was a matter for committee action and administrative policy. And this view appears to be the reflected in the NAD’s official position today in regard to the role of women.

The Commissioning Service

Thus far, the conference treasurers, departmental directors/secretaries, and institutional managers who had been granted “commissioned” status had merely received notification in the mail.

Suddenly, such privacy seemed inadequate. Urgent voices insisted that the appointment of women to commissioned minister status should be made more public; more like, well, more like an ordination service. Thus the “commissioning service” was developed, complete with prayers, Scripture readings, a sermon, a charge, and the laying on of hands, all expanded to fill perhaps a whole hour at a large gathering, like a camp meeting.

In this way a process that began with a plan to reduce income taxes (a) produced the concept that ordination is merely a matter of church policy, and (b) developed into the concept that commissioned women ministers are equivalent to ordained male ministers.

When they learn about it, many Seventh-day Adventists consider it a very surprising (and interesting —and saddening) history.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Redefinition of Adventist Ministry


For more than 100 years, Seventh-day Adventists held that the functions of the licensed and ordained ministry were different. We claimed the support of scripture and of Ellen White for our position.

By the 1970’s, however, this traditional policy was changed in response to new IRS regulations. This paper shows the context and development of the change.

EDIT: In light of the above articles, the phrase, “unorthodox credentialing practices" seems ironic, at best:

Ordination Truth: GC Unity Documents and the Commissioned Credential

Indeed, another paragraph directly addresses “unorthodox credentialing practices:”

What, however, of the unorthodox credentialing practices? Is it perhaps the case that the Church has not taken a position on them? As we have seen, in the absence of an agreed and stated view, organizational units could continue to act. In fact, however, these are practices about which the world Church has deliberated and pronounced, meaning that it is necessary for all to accept the decision of the wider body (Ibid.).

Credentials are a very concrete thing, and have been throughout all but the earliest years of the church organization. They reflect mutually agreed practice, and are not locally malleable. The Church has specified and defined credentials very carefully, and neither unions nor conferences may independently redefine what a credential stands for.

HOWEVER, if all the deep meaning invested in Ordination by both sides is shown to run out on the sizzling hot sand of the last several decades of decidedly unorthodox SDA credentialing practices (BY THE GC!) (to put it kindly), what is the next step?

Alden Thompson, please comment!


What is ironic about the GC Secretariat’s 50-page document that decries “unilateralism” and actions taken without “consulting widely” is that the document itself is the product of unilateral action by the GC undertaken with no consultation with our biblical scholars at the Seminary. The Seminary’s request for further discussion before any attempt is made to adopt the document is eminently reasonable.

The document overlooks that Scripture does not authorize the making of church policy by a close vote. No text or precedent is cited in support of that method of governance. We do not find in Scripture a single occurrence in which the personal conscience of a large minority of Christians is trampled upon by a bare majority of other Christians. Instead, what we find in Scripture is a model of governance by consensus. That consensus was often brought about by submission to and agreement with apostolic authority. Specifically, the Jerusalem Council’s decision was a matter of consensus. The GC’s suggestion (pages 12-13) that the Antiochene church might have dissented from that decision, that Christians from other churches might have forced the church of Antioch to act contrary to its will, and that there might have been a significant and large minority of faithful Christians who disagreed with the decision, is desperate and absurd. Today, we are not faced with a situation in which one local church is dissenting from the teachings and policies of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Instead, we are addressing a situation in which large constituencies of churches are in disagreement with other large constituencies of churches. In essence, we are talking about 6 Christians who are in disagreement with 4 Christians on a matter that is of deep personal conscience to those 4 Christians.

The document also fails to cite a precedent from Seventh-day Adventist Church history in which a bare majority has trampled upon the personal conscience of a large and significant minority.

There are some precedents Ted Wilson and his colleagues at the GC can cite for what they seek to do and those precedents are ubiquitous in the history of the Catholic Church. A discussion of that shameful history is nowhere to be found in the Secretariat’s beefy document.


A few men at Autumn Council control the Doctrines of the SDA church. 20,000,000 members. NOT taking it to the World Wide General Conference. They had their opportunity. They had a badly worded [confusing] statement for voting SA2015.
Now they are angry over their inepness regarding what they were asking to be voted on. They thought it was Unions. It was Divisions. They LOST.
Now with a small number of persons they want to vote Rules and Regulations for the whole World Wide Denomination. And if necessary, disband Unions in order to maintain the women of the SDA church as
second class citizens.

EDIT-- This is NOT the 1st time the Andrews Theological Dept has had a Squabble with Silver Springs Administrators [who are not Theologians] over Headship.
Recall, some time back they wanted to become Commissioned Officers in the Kingdom of God, and RESIGN their Ordained Officer status.


I appreciate the statement from the Seminary faculty, and applaud its intent, but this underscores the rift within the denomination between those who care about careful scholarship and critical thinking and those who declare (at times from the pulpit), “I don’t need someone with a PhD to tell me how to understand the Bible.” It saddens me to see the dumbing down of the church.



The past few days showed us another sample of the delusional mentality entering the SDAC’s baracs, the idea that administrators are the ones in charge of the Church’s theology.

I don’t even know what else should I say when the situation gets so crazy as it is now! Let’s just remember that dictators can hurt one’s body but cannot reach the soul. This is probably the biggest frustration that people like TW and his minions may experience as they do try to subject everyone in Church to their abusive attempt to control everything. Well, guess what? They cannot control anyone’s freedom - even if that means that people will jump off the boat!

But people jumping off the boat is NOT currently the GC’s administration main concern; apparently they couldn’t care less. Their thirst is for power, not for souls!!!

My saddest thoughts go to my fellow compatriot, Jiří Moskala (translated it would be George Moskala), the theology dean at AU. He should never forget what is written on the Czech President’s flag,

From Latin “Veritas Vincit,” it means “Truth Prevails” or “Truth Wins.”

The Professors at AU should be strongly lead by principle, not scared by some humans who are at this time just… temporarily abusing their power!



I find it baffling that the document is heavy on EGW quotes written by a women to prove why women can’t be ordained!


Why did the Seminary not disclose their concerns with the document?


It’s good to see the Seminary speaking up on this topic. I agree on the need for further discussion. And I repeat my suggestion: Table this discussion until the SDA Church has offered a complete and humble apology to Merikay Silver Mcleod and Lorna Tobler. Have we learned nothing since losing Silver vs Pacific Press in the 70s and following it up by efforts to disfellowship two brave church members? Did our “male headship” mentality serve us well in that case?


I am delighted that the faculty at my alma mater had the courage to stand up for reason and sanity.
Thank you courageous seminary professors! Please Walla Walla, PUC, La Sierra,and all other theology faculty, have the fortitude to follow in their steps quickly! The church is at risk!


Are you serious? I don’t have time to read the document, but someone please confirm if this is true.

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It is not stated in those words, and I think Jeremy @vandieman might be embellishing slightly.

But it does state that the GC executive committee (at annual council) represents the voice of the GC, and it is true that the annual council can set or alter policy. It is also true that the annual council can allow the waiving of policy in certain circumstances (even policy that has been set at a GC session).

I didn’t see any claim that the annual council was on a par with the GC session as the highest authority in the church. While functionally it has the same power, major decisions are supposed to be taken to a GC session rather than decided by an annual council. And the annual council would need to have extraordinary justification for reversing a decision made at a session.


I have followed the issue of ordination and credentialing closely for more than twenty years.

I join with the Seminary in urging further discussion of this “unity” document and of a way to diffuse destructive confrontation.

I envision an intentional strategy of focused study and discussion on these issue to drive “our system of representative, consultative, consensus - based decision - making,” as this document has characterized the Adventist movement. It is clear that Adventists are yet to fully employ this type of decision - making in seeking for a satisfying resolution of these issues concerning ordination and credentialing.

A 7-fold intentional strategy could be adopted in this study and discussion process.

  1. The belief that the GC Session is God’s highest authority on earth should be clarified. The interdependent nature of Adventist ecclesial bodies is stressed in this turn of phrase. The fact that there is no more representative global body within the denomination is highlighted here. And the fact that God really does speak through the decision-making processes of His people as we seek to understand and implement His will in our united mission to the world is stressed. It is very evident that this turn of phrase applies only within the denominational context. Adventist organization at its best is never authoritarian but always interdependent in terms of its ever widening spheres of responsibility and influence.

  2. In matters of deeply held conscientious held belief (such as the issue of ordination is for many) religious freedom and freedom of conscience must be accommodated and prioritized over majoritian conviction.

  3. We must decide whether the matter of ordination is a matter wholly subject to theological determination or whether this issue incorporates a cultural dimension, necessitating a degree of unity in diversity. There are a host of potential ways that such diversity could be provided while preserving global unity.

  4. Mutual agreement may be reached as to whether global uniformity is required on the matter of ordination and credentialing, or alternatively whether this is one area where unity in diversity is accommodated, as is allowed in other policy areas.

  5. Further consensus building processes of study and discussion are truly warranted in the search for a more all encompassing ordination and credentialling policy platform. Bertil Wiklander (2015), Alden Thompson (1997) and yours truly, among others, have each made sets of proposals which are outlined elsewhere. (petersomerset@ These do not mandate the Divisions to set selection criteria for ordinands. They do however create a more flexible paradigm of ordination and credentialing.

  6. Study and discussion must also hone our understanding of hermeneutical principles that are appropriately used in seeking helpful understandings of the ordination issue.

  7. Careful study of two foundational principles supporting the ordination and credentialing policies has shown their theological inadequacy. Thus our study in this area is all the more urgent.

Yes, Annual Council is on par with GC Session:

From the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (18th Edition): “In the Church today the General Conference Session, and the General Conference Executive Committee between Sessions, is the highest ecclesiastical authority in the administration of the Church.”—p. 31



The administrative body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the intervals between sessions of the General Conference. It consists of all who are elected at the General Conference sessions to serve in the General Conference organization and in the divisions; also the presidents of union conferences and union missions, the ex-presidents of the General Conference holding credentials from the General Conference, the presidents of the two SDA universities, the editor of the Adventist Review , the presidents of the publishing houses in the United States, the president of Home Study International/Griggs University, and the executive director of the General Conference Insurance Service; also up to 80 others, elected at the sessions or by the General Conference Executive Committee between sessions…

From the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Published with permission from the Review and Herald Publishing Association.


“It saddens me to see the dumbing down of the church.”

. . . Don’t be sad. I’m about ready to leave ‘the church’ . . . again.


Please remember the vote has been cast in last GC Session by the world body. Please also remember that SDA is not just an American Church anymore, but a world-wide Church as God intended it to be.

I believe GC is acting correctly to try to address those Unions who have been warned not to go against the wish of the world body. It’s a clear defiance, ignoring of unity and not wishing for harmony by a few Unions. Perhaps for it’s own wish and selfish interest?

If this was not voted in the GC Session, then what GC is doing is wrong, but GC is only acting on the wish of the world body, including NAD and GC Officers, who had taken one whole day of GC Session to voiced and voted.

Let’s remember, how Satan was cast out of Heaven! Let be aware that very soon the time of shaking will be upon God’s people. When that is completed, Mrs White said, those who are wants power will not be left. May God filled us with His Holy Spirit to keep us on the straight and narrow path that will lead us to Heaven, by His grace and through His power. May leaders truly reflect Jesus Christ in all level of Church organization.

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